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Love, Loss and What I Wore
One day, I was lying in bed with a backache, and I started thinking about a dress I used to wear. I drew a picture of it. Then I thought of another one. I decided to draw the dresses to hold onto them and when I finished, I thought, 'These dresses tell a story.'
— Gingy, whose dresses do indeed tell a story, and whose stage stand-in will actually teach you how to draw yourself.
Ilene Beckerman's charming Love, Loss and What I Wore is one of those books you buy, and then buy several more times to give to a friend, a daughter or sister. This little book with its delightful drawings and brilliantly spare but comprehensive text is a gem that I've treasured for years. It may look like a fun, gift book but it's much more than that. The author has used her drawing gift to touch a deep emotional chord. Besides being sure to trigger a reader's own happy and painful memories the text and images also evoke the look and feel of the last six decades of the twentieth century.
Tyne Daly narrator in chief and stand-in for Ilene Beckerman whose book inspired the show.
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Delia and Nora Ephron obviously share my love for this illustrated memoir, but they decided to take their appreciation a step further. To prove how this book not only charms but jump starts the reader's own apparel-related memories, they've created a theatrical assemblage that intersperses Beckerman's text with other women's recollections. The result, also named Love, Loss and What I Wore, has just opened for a limited run at the West Side Arts downstairs space.
The Ephorons' adaptation is structured like Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues which had a long run at this same venue, also with a rotating cast of well known actors. The cast sits at music stands that hold the script segments assigned to them, No costumes, just 5 women in black. The only set piece is a clothing rack on which large reproductions of illustrations from the book are hung. Director Karen Carpenter sees to it that the shift from monologue to monologue is never awkward or static.
At the preview performance I saw, the clothing memoirists were Samantha Bee, Tyne Daly, Katie Finneran, Natasha Lyonne and Rosie O'Donnell. While this may sound more like a reading than a traditional play, the set-up of reading from a script is deceptive and it calls for assured performers which these women certainly are. O'Donnell is also one of the women acknowledged in the program for contributing their stories. Tyne Daly told Gingy's story (the ginger-hair colored young Ilene Beckerman's nickname) and also served as a genial general narrator in chief.
Gingy's Brownie uniform
(illustration from Ilene Beckerman's book)
The Clothing Monologues — oops, I mean Love, Loss and What I Wore, begins, like the book, with Gingy's 1940s Brownie uniform. Since this is the central story that takes us through six decades of Gingy's life, Daly's beautiful white hair is just fine. Gingy's reminiscences, like those of several of the other narrators, often calls for two or more of the narrators to interact or speak in overlapping dialogue, which makes for a nice break from the straight monologues. Naturally, since the book is the inspirational wellspring, its contents provide the show with its most detailed, complete and satisfying elements. The memories of the friends invited by the Ephrons to contribute are sandwiched in between the Gingy segments, with everything tied together by the illustrated items Ms. Daly takes off and puts back on the rack.
The material added to the book focuses on younger women, no doubt to broaden the show's audience appeal. While some of the vignettes are both funny and touching, some are more so than others. Unlike Gingy's childhood to grandmotherhood saga which is presented in dribs and drabs throughout the 80 minutes, the add-on text is presented in large chunks that focus on one aspect of the memories and feelings kicked up by what Beckerman, her sister, mother, friends, aunt and grandmother wore. A scene about a bathrobe which, by a bizarre coincidence, was worn both by her mother and her new stepmother, is strong stuff. It's narrated by Rosie O'Donnell (and probably from her own memory book). The love story she relates about two people whose marriage coincides with his going off to serve a prison sentence seems out of place amid these generally middle class stories.
Overall, the interspersed monologues suffer a bit when contrasted with Beckerman's wonderfully economical text, which manages to bring to life a whole cast of relatives and friends and conveys emotion-fraught events with a mere mention (her mother's death, her father's leaving the family, her first husband's unfaithfulness).
The various vignettes do, however, tap into this subject's potential for a really broad range of memories. If, like me, you were ever a creative crocheter, you may recognize co-author Delia Ephron as the woman named Eve whose first husband wanted her to stop writing, even though she'd only written one book called The Adventurous Crocheter. As Delia Brock, Ephron actually did co-author a book by that name (As it happened, I interviewed her and her co-author Lorraine Bodger, for my own A New Look at Crochet, which, like Ephron's how-to book, empowered women to create lots of memory-inducing funky items of apparel).
Shoes play a big role in Love, Loss and What I Wore
(illustration from Ilene Beckerman's book)
The recollections about choices between high and low-heeled shoes and the saga of Liz, who despite her sisters' warnings, falls in love with a man who owned six pairs of cowboy boots were no doubt inspired by Gingy's nifty red t-straps and a pair of high heeled black suede boots. The T-Straps accompanied Gingy's" going out" memories; the boots were part of her fiftieth birthday memories: She had the bags removed from under her eyes, and the boots, bought in a Greenwich Village shop, reminded her of her mother-in-law who was fifty when she first met her and who never owned a pair of high heels (as her mother was her Brownie troop leader but never wore a uniform because it was probably too expensive).
This staged version of Love, Loss and What I Wore did have me wishing for more powerful mother-daughter and other family and friend memories and less emphasis on jokey one-liners. That said, the Ephrons are savvy writers and the audience clearly enjoyed scenes like the one that has the cast take turns recalling words of motherly wisdom ("never wear velvet before Rosh Hashannah" yielded major laughs). Maybe it's because loving Beckerman's book as much as I do and being old enough to actually relate to many of her clothing memories, I expected the play to be even better than the book. Still, the Ephrons have wrought a fun entertainment that may well extend beyond its limited run.
Beckerman's story takes her into grandmotherhood with her granddaughter rummaging through her clothes closet.
(illustration from Ilene Beckerman's book)
The rotating casts are sure to bring a fresh dynamic to future performances. It should be especially interesting to see some of the mother-daughter interactions played by real mother and daughter, Rhea Perlman and Lucy DeVito who are scheduled to appear from November 18th to December 13th.
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Love, Loss and What I Wore|
Play by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron, based on Ilene Beckerman book of same name
Directed by Karen Carpenter
Rotating Cast: September 21 – October 18— Samantha Bee, Tyne Daly, Katie Finneran, Natasha Lyonne and Rosie O'Donnell; October 21 – November 15: Mary Birdsong, Tyne Daly, Lisa Joyce, Jane Lynch and Mary Louise Wilson; November 18 – December 13— Kristin Chenoweth, Lucy DeVito, Capathia Jenkins, Rhea Perlman and Rita Wilson.
Scenic Design: Jo Winiarski
Costume Design: Jessica Jahn
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Walter Trarbach
Make-Up Design: Maria Verel
Running time: Approx. 80 minutes without an intermission
Westside Theatre 407 West 43rd Street 212/239-6200
From 9/21/09; opening 10/01/09; closing 12/13/09 -- extended with final closing 3/25/12.
Dates & Times
Wednesday @ 2pm & 8pm, Thursday & Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm, Sunday @ 3pm & 7pm
Week of September 21 - 27: Monday & Tuesday @ 8pm, Wednesday @ 2pm & 8pm, Thursday & Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm
Week of September 28 - October 4: Tuesday @ 8pm, Wednesday @ 2pm & 8pm, Thursday & Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm, Sunday @ 3pm
Week of November 23 - 29: Monday & Tuesday @ 8pm, Wednesday @ 2pm, Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm, Sunday @ 3pm & 7pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 9/26 press preview
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